Ohio's Golf Magazine — July 2009
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17 Questions
Eric Poklar

Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus played together for the fi rst time in nine years in a charity skins game before the start of the Memorial Tournament. Prior to the round, the two titans of golf sat down separately with reporters, including Ohio’s Golf, to discuss playing together, Tiger’s health, Arnold Palmer, family and the state of golf. To keep it even, we added an extra question. Questions and answers have been edited for length.

Jack Nicklaus Jack, everyone seems to have an opinion on Tiger and his comeback. How do you see his comeback?

Are you surprised? Do you think he is on schedule?

(JN) Well, I really don’t know. That answer really should come from Tiger. I mean, his scoring is pretty good. He’s won once, hasn’t he? And he fi nished in the top ten every other time or something. That’s really terrible, isn’t it? It’s a terrible comeback.

I think he’s probably done pretty well and probably is where he would have expected to be. Do I think he is at the level that he wants to be? Probably not. You know, it’s a long time to come back after you have an ACL and you have broken bones. If you look at his golf swing, I don’t think he moves out of the way of the ball like he used to. I think that is probably protective, and it is probably good on his part.

Could you talk about playing with Tiger today? It’s sort of a rare occurrence.

(JN) I haven’t played with him since the PGA at Valhalla.

I guess that was 2000. They had me paired (this year) in the other group, and I said, “Unh-unh. I haven’t played with him for nine years. I would like to play with Tiger.” I’m really looking forward to it. I told him I’d give him a couple of extra shots if he needed it. I’ll throw my 98 mile-an-hour club head speed at him.

Jack, you’ve always been very supportive of Tiger’s quest to tie or break your record of 18 majors. What do you see in your crystal ball for the next 10 years of Tiger’s career? How many majors do you think he might be able to win?

(JN) I have not a clue, obviously. People have asked me, will Tiger break the record? I think the pace he has and the quality of player he is that, even if he doesn’t play well, I think he’ll probably still break my record. But he still has to do that. I mean, it is not a gimme. He’s got to win another fi ve majors to do that. I would suspect that he is such a focused young man and his work ethic is so good that he will pass it.

He will probably do it in the next three years.

Let’s take you away from Tiger a little bit. Talk about public golf. It must have changed a lot in your career as a player and course architect. Could you give us your opinion about the development of public golf in America?

(JN) Public golf has really changed from public municipal golf to public access golf. What I mean by that is most of your old public golf courses used to be owned by the cities, counties, states, as in Bethpage (site of the 2009 U.S. Open). Most of that golf was pretty accessible for a pretty low fee and everything else. Public access now becomes hotel golf and stand-along golf courses that are just for public access.

Municipal golf has gone from being not much of a golf course to actually being able to create the Same experience for all golfers, whether it is private or public, no matter what facility you go to. It’s terrifi c for the average golfer to be able to go to Bethpage, or go to Torrey Pines, and the new course in Seattle … Chambers Bay. The public doesn’t have any access to Augusta National. It has never had the opportunity to go there.

Jack, how did you prepare to play the U.S. Open?

How was it any different from the regular tournaments you prepared to play?

(JN) I started off at the beginning of the year, the Masters was the fi rst thing I looked at. I’d set my tournament schedule based on what I wanted to do to prepare myself to play in the Masters. So, I played about half the tournaments and got to Augusta about a week ahead of time and played it. I always played the tournament the week before the (Masters) tournament to fi nd out how my game would do. And once the Masters was over, my preparation was for the U.S. Open.

It (the U.S. Open) was much the same thing. I would pick golf courses depending on where the Open was going to be. And I’d go play my practice rounds and work on my golf game (in conditions) like at the U.S. Open. Okay, this rough is really deep. These fairways are really narrow. These greens are really fi rm. These greens are really fast. All those elements that come into the U.S. Open. As a result, when I got there the week of the tournament, I had all those elements out of the way. As the players came in on Monday to start their practice rounds, and they said, “Oh God, that rough is so deep, oh, these greens are so hard,” I’d just check them off. Don’t have to worry about them.

Jack, Arnold Palmer turns 80 this year. Can you give us a sense of where you guys are in your relationship?

(JN) We usually end up talking about something once a month or maybe every six weeks. Arnold and I had a very close relationship when we fi rst started on the Tour. He was very good to me. We used to travel a lot together and everything else. As Arnold left the regular Tour and went to the Senior Tour, we had 10 years in there where we really didn’t see a lot of each other. Once we (both) started playing the Senior Tour we started to spend more time together.

I think we would both like to get a little younger.

I think that’s always the way everybody is.

Arnold still probably plays 10 times more golf than I play. He struggles with it, as you know. That’s one thing I talked to him (about) when we were at Augusta. I said, “How are you playing?” “Oh, horrible” (he replied). “How much you playing?” (I asked). “Every day” (he said). But that’s him. That’s what he does As a competitor, you stood in the fairway with Arnold in his prime. How would you assess Arnold Palmer as a golfer?

What did he bring to the game of golf?

(JN) I think he brought a lot more to the game than his game. What I mean by that is that, you know, there’s no question about his record and his ability to play the game. He was very, very good at that. But he obviously brought a lot more. He brought, you know, the hitch of his pants, the fl air that he brought to the game. The fans that he brought into the game.

Tiger’s respect for you is immense. Has he ever sought your advice on how to juggle parenthood with tournament golf?

(JN) Never asked me, no. I’ve had enough comments on what I’ve done and how I’ve handled things, and I am sure he’s probably read that or not read it, or he’s taken it and used it or not used it. We’ve never really had a discussion on it. I’ve said many times that Tiger will be a better player with a family than without a family. You’ve got somebody to play for, somebody to come home and share it with, and somebody to root for you that’s right there that you love.

Tiger Woods Tiger, Jack was just asked to assess your recovery And how you’ve played so far. He said if you watch your swing you’re not getting out of the way the way you used to. What is your take on his opinion?

(TW) Absolutely no doubt. Had to be that way. Worst thing you can do is stretch out the ligament right away.

The surgery would have been all for naught. That’s one of the reasons it takes athletes longer to come back. That is one of the reasons why I haven’t been able to hit balls as far as I normally do, but that’s coming.

Each week I am able to hit it a little bit longer. It’s great. Just a little longer before I’m all the way back.

Have you been looking forward to playing again with Jack? Are you going to give him the business?

(TW) Well, I am looking forward to it, no doubt. Any time you can play with Jack … obviously, we know he doesn’t play much anymore. For him to get out there and play in front of people, it’s going to feel good. For us as players, and certainly the fans.

Tiger, with the U.S. Open at Bethpage this year, could you tell us some stories about your muni golf days? Did you walk up to the counter and pay yourself? Did your mom and dad give you money?

(TW) I defi nitely did it. One, I couldn’t see over the counter, I’d be yelling from under the counter. The guy would stick his head out from out over. I’d pay my money. Usually from my earnings the day before. Putting green. That’s usually how I got my greens fees.

Putting with your dad?

(TW) No.

Pigeons?

(TW) Exactly. I was a little kid. (I’d ask) “Want to putt? Want to play for some skins?” I used to come home with a pocket full of quarters. So after a couple of weeks of that my dad got real frustrated. So he said, “No more playing for quarters.” Next day I come home. I grew up at Hartwell. It’s a par-3 course. I come home with a pocket full of dollars. Basically, he said no more gambling.

Tiger, what do you remember about playing with Jack for the fi rst time?

(TW) It was a practice round at the Masters. It was him and Arnold. You know, tall, thin-looking, 1-iron kid. And we played skins. Arnold birdied the last hole to take all the skins. I remember Jack not being happy about that. And he basically said, “Let’s go get Arnold on the par-3 course.” I’m like, “Really, you want me to go play? Let’s go. But I don’t have a tee time.” He said, “We’ll work it out.” So we walk over there on the tee. Just like that. It was pretty cool.

For them to invite me to play basically 27 holes with them, certainly a day I will never forget.

How did the par-3 turn out?

(TW) Turned out well. I birdied the last hole to even it out a little bit?

Quarters?

(TW) Not quarters.

Tiger, your daughter Sam is nearly the same age as you were when you were on the Mike Douglas Show. Is that wild for you to imagine, and does she share any of your precociousness at that age?

(TW) Is it wild? Yeah. It’s hard to believe I was swinging a club at that age. But she certainly has my temper.

How about your vocabulary?

(TW) Not yet. But yeah, she doesn’t like for me to help her hold a golf club. She’ll fi gure it out herself.

Yeah, sounds very familiar.
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